On Thursday, Billboard reported that Simpsons creator Matt Groening “cleared up the rumors” about Michael Jackson’s iconic Simpsons episode and confirmed that yes, Jackson, who would have turned 60 this week, was on the show. This after “years of debate.”
It’s a viral, traffic-driving story involving major celebrities, sharp timing, and a newsworthy interview. It’s been aggregated by many other outlets and became a top Google Trend on Friday. It’s also old news.
We knew that Jackson appeared as himself on the iconic cartoon. In fact, NME in 2017 published a great oral history of the classic episode. As did the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. The Ringer mentioned it on a great list of best episodes. Hell, it’s in the season 3 DVD commentary, according to NME. Here’s a nice THR quote from a former Simpsons director:
Michael Jackson once called Jim and said he wanted to do the show and even write a hit song for Bart. This is the only time this ever happened. We went to his agent Sandy Gallin’s house. We’re all sitting around this huge table and everybody’s silent, including Michael. I’d never been more nervous in my life. He asked for a sound-alike vocalist, Kipp Lennon, to sing, and Michael did the spoken part. When Kipp sang, Michael was really cracking up.
It’s not a “rumor” or a “conspiracy,” as Esquire UK called it. It’s just a fun fact lifted from an interview that Groening did in Australia this week, clarifying for that particular host.
Journalists are beholden to blogging at the speed of content, and that’s what makes this oversight so unsurprising and frustrating. This collective erasure of history may be small potatoes, but it’s indicative of the harsh economic realities of internet publishing. We all need to move fast, and sometimes mining for needle-moving, low-hanging content can create a ridiculous feedback loop. Troublingly, the success of this story shows that even late-arriving trivia can be packaged as news.
Let’s pullover for a quick “michael jackson simpsons episode” search next time.